Berryessa, C.M. and Caplan, J.M. (2020). Cognitive and affective processing of risk information: A Survey experiment on risk-based decision-making related to crime and public safety. Frontiers in Psychology.
The current study, using a multi-factorial survey experiment with a sample of the general public (N=800), investigates if and how types of risk information on crime and public safety, such as maps, graphs, or tables, commonly used and communicated by law enforcement elicit dual-process (affective and cognitive) risk information processing in risk-based decision-making, and if such processing or decision-making differs depending on the risk level, context, or the type or format of risk information communicated. Participants responded to a vignette in which they were asked to choose a ride-share pick-up point within a certain geographic area with varying risk levels of being involved in a pedestrian-automobile crash. Results showed that risk information related to crime and public safety elicits dual-process risk information processing, and that both affective and cognitive processing significantly predicted risk-based decision-making, regardless of the risk level or type of risk information examined. Interestingly, risk information was used to create an almost “black and white” distinction for participants, in which their lowest-risk choice was treated as their comparison point, relative to all other higher levels of risk, in risk processing and decision-making. Further, the risk level or type of risk information examined did affect the nature and level of affective and cognitive processing elicited, suggesting that different types or characteristics of risk information can change modes of processing and their effects on risk-based decisions. Our findings provide first-of-its-kind data that show members of the general public, as consumers of risk information in relation to crime and public safety, process and make decisions surrounding such information using the dual-process approach. Implications for communicating risk information in relation to crime and public safety to both the general public and police, as well as how to extend the current inquiry to future areas of research on police, are discussed.